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Energy production, use high in Kentucky; research ongoing

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When it comes to energy, it could be said that Kentucky burns the candle from both ends. That’s because only four states produce more power than we do, and only seven use more per person.

That’s not surprising, of course, since Kentucky plays prominent roles nationally in coal production as well as manufacturing, especially in the auto and aluminum industries.

What is less well known are the finer details behind our overall energy usage. Recently, the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet shed a little more light on that, when it released an in-depth study of what it takes to run our homes and businesses and keep our cars on the road.

It’s difficult to imagine numbers so large, but in 2009, our state used 41 million tons of coal, 125 million barrels of petroleum and 206 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The price tag: $17.4 billion.

Transportation and industrial needs accounted for almost three-fourths of our energy needs, while the remainder was split among our homes and commercial businesses. It’s here where we can see the true effect of the nation’s economic downturn, because consumption that year was five percent less than in 2008.

In energy production, Kentucky relies on coal about twice as much as the nation, and our rates are much cheaper as a result. Most of our coal, however, is exported to other states. Florida and then Tennessee are the biggest customers of the coal mined in Western Kentucky, while South Carolina and Georgia are the top destinations for coal from Eastern Kentucky.

Although coal is by far the biggest fossil fuel we produce, we’re seeing a strong surge in natural gas as well; its production went up almost a fifth between 2009 and 2010.

As the country looks for ways to boost home-grown energy, conservation and renewables are also getting more attention, and Kentucky is playing a leading role here as well.

Renewable energy production in the commonwealth saw double-digit growth in 2009, with hydroelectric sources providing half of the total. Wood, biomass, ethanol and then geothermal made up the other half.

There are some truly innovative things going on with this field. In 2010, for example, we opened the nation’s first energy-neutral schools, meaning they produce as much as they need over a calendar year. One of those schools, located in Warren County, has enough solar energy capacity on a sunny day to run the equivalent of 50 homes.

We’ve come a long way in this area during the last six years. Then, we didn’t have a single school meeting the stringent federal ENERGY STAR standards; now, we have 125.

When it comes to renewable energy research, we’re seeing such things as the University of Kentucky building a $20 million lab dedicated to this field and the University of Louisville using its single biggest private donation - also $20 million - for ongoing work in this area as well.  That school is also looking for ways to turn biomass into jet fuel, which will undoubtedly help nearby UPS in the air while the company is converting the ground fleet at its Louisville processing center to handle a 20 percent biodiesel blend.

The General Assembly has passed legislation in recent years, meanwhile, that is spurring research in clean-coal technology and making it easier for companies to transport carbon dioxide to storage sites.

Out in the state, we’re also seeing some great progress. In Hopkinsville and Owensboro, we have two major players in the production of ethanol and biodiesel fuel. Winchester is home to one of the world’s largest algae production facilities, which also makes biofuel.

In Monticello, they’re using some of the space designed for houseboats to turn out energy-efficient homes; Berea has its own solar “farm”; and Martin County is working to convert gas from its garbage into electricity. Perdue Farms is doing the same from gas generated at a chicken processing unit, and even the Kentucky Horse Park is trying to get more horsepower, so to speak, out of the manure its horses produce.

In the home, meanwhile, there were 34,000 rebates given to Kentuckians last year who bought energy-saving appliances, and nearly 200 farms tapped another program designed to increase energy efficiency.

As all of these examples show, Kentucky plays a major role when it comes to energy, no matter how it’s produced or how it’s used. It’s a trend that we hope can continue long into the future, because there is no doubt that we have a lot more to offer.

If you have any questions about this issue or anything else involving state government, I would like to know. I hope to hear from you soon.

Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.